Third-Country Nationals

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Mr. Ainsworth: My hon. Friend is starting to get into a rather complex subject. There are three directives, and it is early days with regard to discussion on them. Many countries have raised different concerns. They do not necessarily share our concerns about the maintenance of border controls, but other issues are arising as the debate begins.

Simon Hughes: Which countries have shown that they do not intend to implement the directives? What is the position of Denmark and Ireland on each of the three directives?

Mr. Ainsworth: Ireland has the same policy as we do on discretion over borders. I shall try to clarify Denmark's views on the three directives before we finish our discussions today.

Mr. Malins: Could the Minister let us know—if not now, then perhaps later—how many third-country nationals in Europe might be eligible to benefit under directive 8237/01?

Mr. Ainsworth: Again, it will have to be an estimate, but I will give that to the hon. Gentleman, if it is available. We are talking about the entire current membership of the European Union, but I will try to give him as accurate a figure as possible, before we finish today.

Mr. Hopkins: Why is the wording of the Government's motion so mild and cautious? I applaud their stance on the matter, but the wording is weaker than it is in our statement on the UK frontiers protocol.

Mr. Ainsworth: My hon. Friend is not being clear about what his concerns are. The words are as they are: they cover the situation, and they maintain the

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position of our current policy. I am unsure what part of the motion he finds problematic. If he had pointed it out, I would have addressed it directly.

Simon Hughes: Following the question of the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), I want the Minister to tell us, after taking advice on the matter, how many people in the United Kingdom would be affected by these directives—either taken together or separately. There must have been an estimate of the numbers. Figures appear in the report, but they vary. It would be helpful to know how many people the Government believe are in the country who are non-EU nationals but have a right to be here.

Mr. Ainsworth: I will try to give that information to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Malins: Paragraph 38 of the explanatory notes to draft directive 8237 says:

    ''The draft Directive would require the UK to give a (short-term) residence permit to those who had made fraudulent applications for long-term resident status''.

I do not completely understand that sentence, although the words are fairly plain. Can the Minister explain what it means?

Mr. Ainsworth: In which directive is that paragraph?

Mr. Malins: I am referring to draft directive 8237, which addresses the status of third-country nationals who are long-term residents. I find paragraph 38 confusing.

Mr. Ainsworth: At present, we maintain control of those who are resident in our country, as the hon. Gentleman knows. There are people who are legally resident in other parts of the EU, but who cannot reside in the UK. As the draft directive is currently worded, third-country nationals who are legally resident in other parts of the EU would have the right to come to the UK for periods of time, even if they had made a fraudulent application to enter the UK. Therefore, by accepting that directive, we would allow a breach of our ability to control our frontiers and who is legally present in the UK.

Simon Hughes: The Scrutiny Committee makes its views clear, and refers to the views of others that have been communicated to it. Is it fair to interpret from the Committee's comments that the majority of representations received by it and the Government—and seen by both of them—are in favour of the directives? I am referring to the representations of those in the UK who have made their views about this matter clear.

Mr. Ainsworth: There are three separate directives. The situation is different with regard to each of them. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, when we find ourselves in a situation that allows us to use the opt-out that was negotiated to the treaty, we have only a short period to decide whether to exercise it. At the end of the discussions, we have the ability to continue to participate in the discussions; and at the end of all

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of the deliberations, we have the ability to decide whether to opt in. We are not necessarily able, within the time frame that is imposed on us, to enter into a full consultation or to take account of all the representations that people might want to make on the directives. We have only three months to decide whether to opt out.

Mr. Malins: Has the Minister made any assessment, or is there any assessment ongoing, of the likely cost to the public purse of implementing any or all of the directives? This country might incur staff, judicial and administrative costs as a result.

Mr. Ainsworth: Discussions are in their early days. The shape of the directives could change, and the change might be substantive. At this stage, no regulatory impact assessment of the cost to business of the directive to enable the movement of third-country nationals within the European Union has been conducted. It was clear that the directive as worded would be against our policy and that we would not be in a position to opt in; we therefore did not consider that regulatory impact studies and such depth of consideration were needed. Obviously if, after negotiations, we reached a position at which we might be minded to opt in, we would have to consider properly costs to the Exchequer and business, and take those considerations on board.

Mr. Hopkins: The Minister has answered my earlier question by indicating that the Government's position is rather stronger than that suggested by the wording of the motion. Does he think it possible that the directives might not be implemented simply because various countries, including Britain, raise so many objections that the European Commission has to go away and think again?

Mr. Ainsworth: That is always a possibility, but there are gains to be made through the directives. Referring to the directive on long-term third-country nationals, if we believe that, all other things being equal, it is positive in terms of integration and social cohesion to treat third-country nationals in a way that is closely approximate to the treatment of EU nationals, much could be gained by laying out minimum standards for the treatment of such people. We should not necessarily walk away from the directives; they raise important issues, but there are considerable difficulties in several cases.

Simon Hughes: Has the Minister had the chance to talk to the Labour party delegation in the European Parliament? Is he aware that the European Parliament debated and produced a report on the future of long-term residents in the European Union? The Socialist group, which includes the Labour party, voted in favour of both the report and granting rights to long-term residents. If the Minister has not spoken to the Labour group, will he or one of his colleagues make that a priority, so that its views can be taken into account?

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Mr. Ainsworth: We regularly have discussions with our colleagues in the European Parliament, and we try to ensure that we understand their policies and co-operate with them as closely as possible.

Mr. Malins: Document No. 11803/01 relates to the entry and residence of third-country nationals for paid and self-employed activities. Has the Minister taken on board the fact that if we opt into that directive, the effect on our pension rules and pension funds might be quite damaging? Do our national insurance contributions not cover all aspects of social security, which are very difficult to untangle? Does the Minister think that people who return to this country will bring benefits that are comparable to the benefits that might be taken out? Does he realise that the draft directive contains a pension problem?

Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman is right. I said that the Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions have raised fundamental issues relating to part of that directive, which the hon. Gentleman addresses exactly. The way in which national insurance contributions can be broken down in certain circumstances is the difficulty that I have in mind when I say that the Treasury and the DWP would want that part of the directive to be either changed substantially, or removed.

Simon Hughes: The European Scrutiny Committee considered the three directives and produced a report on the Government's view as expressed to the Committee. One of the Committee's conclusions has led to our consideration of the directives today. Have the Government produced a written response to the Committee's questions, views, conclusions and recommendations? If not—I understand if the Government wanted this debate to take place first—will the Minister undertake to reply fully in writing within a reasonable time of his choosing, such as three months?

Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman is right: the Scrutiny Committee's main request was that we have this debate so as to understand better the Government's position. None the less, I do not see much that is unreasonable in the hon. Gentleman's request, so I shall seek to do as he asks within a reasonable period.

Mr. Malins: If the Government conclude that it is proper to opt into any or all of the directives, what opportunities will be there for parliamentary scrutiny, debate on the Floor of the House, and a vote on the directives?

Mr. Ainsworth: As I have said, these are early days, and many member states are raising many issues about the directives. However, there is a well-trodden route for parliamentary scrutiny, and the Committee in this place and the one in the other place exercise that provision fairly consistently and fairly rigidly. All documentation provided to which the Government respond will be presented for parliamentary scrutiny, and any alteration in policy will be scrutinised in the usual way. I cannot guarantee that there will be a

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debate in the House on any given issue that might arise between now and the end of the negotiations, but the hon. Gentleman will know that the Scrutiny Committees sometimes request a debate if they feel that one is warranted.

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